Cold War 2.0 has begun – M.D. Nalapat

Boris Johnson & Narendra Modi

Prof M.D. NalapatCold War 2.0 has begun, and India seems on track to be part of the partnership of democracies opposing the march to primacy of the Sino-Russian alliance in the Indo-Pacific. – M.D. Nalapat

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the UK is the guest of honour at the next Republic Day parade to be held on Rajpath. He has talked more than once of a “concert of democracies” to tackle the challenge posed internally by extremism and externally by the emergence of another communist superpower, the People’s Republic of China. It ought to be a given that any such grouping would include India, but in a less than logical world, this is not the case. The Atlantic Council, regarded as among the primary thought dispensers of the Atlantic community, includes not India but the European Union as a component of its version of the G10. That the EU is a coherent and unified group of states federated into a union with bonds sufficiently strong to be designated as a country seems a given to the Atlantic Council, and to Brexit enthusiasts in the UK, who managed to prise Britain away from the EU on the grounds that membership in the grouping was a grievous infringement to sovereignty. They should know. The British have been expert in extinguishing the sovereignty of more territories than any other country on the planet, in the process cobbling together an empire that straddled the world. It was only after the close of the war unleashed by Hitler and Tojo during 1936-45 (a period which includes the takeover of the Rhineland by the German military and the invasion of Manchuria and later historical China by Japan) that the US stepped forward to claim the mantle of global leadership, only to be contested in that by the USSR from the mid-1950s to around the 1980s, when the latter began a process of meltdown culminating in its fragmentation and collapse in 1992, the year P.V. Narasimha Rao began to seek (and eventually fail as a consequence of the myopia of the Clinton administration) to replace the vanished entente with Moscow. Under Xi Jinping, the third foundational leader of the Chinese Communist Party after Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the PRC has not hidden its intention to once again emerge as the Middle Kingdom, this time in Mao-Deng-Xi rather than in imperial hues. The apparent scientific and other successes of the PRC have led to a spurt of support for strong leadership in countries across the world, whether in India or Brazil or Russia, and in an intensification of the control of the state over the lives of citizens, an expansion of governmental power facilitated by the extraordinary curbs on activity placed as a consequence of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Much more than in previous years, the pandemic-caused expansion of the authority of the state in major democracies has made them resemble the governance structure of the PRC, rather than (as had been expected by numerous policymakers) the latter moving closer to the former over time.

India has a neighbour whose population of religious minorities has dropped from 38% in 1946 to less than 2% at present. School textbooks are filled with derogatory comments about selected religious practices, and the country has been majoritarian from the time it was separated from the rest of India and brought into the world by the British in 1947. The thinking in Whitehall was that Pakistan would be a reliable ally of the Atlantic alliance during Cold War 1.0, while India under Jawaharlal Nehru and his ideology of a fusion of Stalinist administration, Gandhian forbearance to foes and a society designed by Beatrice and Sidney Webb would most probably be lost as an ally. Nehru stood by his principles, in the 1950s, refusing to join with Eisenhower in seeking a halt to the takeover of Tibet by the PLA and backing Mao for the permanent UNSC seat even during the 1962 conflict and despite it being informally offered instead to India by the US and later, the USSR. Mahatma Gandhi would have been proud of such an act of sacrifice by the individual he chose over candidates such as Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and Vallabhbhai Patel as the Prime Minister of India on the grounds that when gone, Jawaharlal would “speak my language”. So deep was the compassion of the Mahatma that he advised the Viceroy of India to “allow Hitler to occupy British homes”, as such a gesture would transform the unmatched depths of the dictator’s depravity into a kindness not known to have been demonstrated by Adolf Hitler except perhaps to his Alsatian canine Blondi, which he finally killed (whether in a gentle manner or not we are not told) through poisoning. Given such extraordinary and saintly views about a mortal foe of Britain and its allies of Nehru’s principal supporter, it was no surprise that the British were less than certain that India under such a Prime Minister would stand by the US and the UK during Cold War 1.0. Now Cold War 2.0 has begun, and India seems on track to be part of the partnership of democracies opposing the march to primacy of the Sino-Russian alliance in the Indo-Pacific (quaintly named the Asia-Pacific by Nehruvians in the Biden entourage). Prime Minister Johnson is right in placing India as a central player in such an alliance, in contrast to those in his country and elsewhere who get confused between India with Pakistan and speak of the former as being the country where minorities are disappearing and where religious supremacy reigns. This about a country where there are 240 million religious minorities, among whom are some of the most influential (not to mention wealthiest) citizens in the land.

The Prime Ministers of the India and the UK, Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson, have much to discuss besides the symbolism of the two leaders being present together at India’s most consequential annual event. The democracies are running out of time in the face of the problems that await them, and both Modi and Johnson will be judged by their success in overcoming them. – Sunday Guardian Live, 20 December 2020

Prof. M.D. Nalapat is an academician and columnist. He is Vice-Chair of Manipal Advanced Research Group and Director of the Department of Geopolitics & International Relations at Manipal University.

Vladimir Putin & Xi Jinping


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  1. Trump - Modi - Xi

    Wake-Up India: US’ Tibet Policy & Support Becomes Law; Should India Play The Tibet Card Now? – Smriti Chaudhary – EurAsian Times – December 29, 2020

    Will India join hands with the US in safeguarding Tibet? Despite several warnings from China, US President Donald Trump signed a bill into law that calls for building an American consulate in Lhasa and checks Beijing’s interference in the reincarnation of the new Dalai Lama.

    The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 (TPSA) calls for building a US Consulate in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, and makes it US policy that decisions regarding the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama are exclusively within the authority of the current Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist leaders, and the Tibetan people.

    It further provides that the Chinese government’s interference in the process will invite serious sanctions and visa restrictions.

    Following the Galwan valley clash between Indian and Chinese troops in June, New Delhi has stepped up its ante and has increasingly aligned itself with the US in a bid to contain the Chinese threat. As many as 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the incident while the Chinese side did not reveal their casualty figures.

    According to Major General Ashok K Mehta (retd), a founding member of the Defence Planning Staff, the forerunner of the current Integrated Defence Staff, India’s boundary dispute is intrinsically linked to Tibet.

    In an opinion piece for The Quint, General Mehta explained that New Delhi’s recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet was contingent upon China’s acceptance of Tibetan autonomy.

    “The Dalai Lama gave up the quest for independence in exchange for genuine autonomy within China. Beijing has squashed autonomy and not kept its side of the bargain with Tibet and China,” he wrote.

    The Chinese foreign ministry “firmly rejected” the new US law. Beijing has reiterated that the issue is internal and the new law is a way to “crackdown on China, with Tibet being one of the few ‘cards’ it can play.”

    Arguing over America’s intent to open a new consulate in Lhasa, China’s state-owned Global Times said the US has “ulterior motives” for opening a consulate in Tibet, without explaining what these motives are.

    India’s Tibet Story

    After the failed uprising in 1959 in Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India. A Tibetan government-in-exile was set up in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh.

    However, in 2003, India recognized Tibet as a part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China. Tibetans have been resisting the Chinese occupation for decades.

    The movement has now been rekindled after a Tibetan-origin soldier with India’s special forces was killed during a military operation in Eastern Ladakh in August.

    Following the India-China war in 1962, the Special Frontier Force (SFF) was formed by recruiting thousands of exiled Tibetans. Recently, amid the current standoff, the SFF was used to carry out an operation in eastern Ladakh on the intervening night of 29-30 August that helped capture critical heights in the region.

    Earlier, SFF has been involved in several covert operations including the 1971 war, Operation Blue Star in Golden Temple Amritsar, Kargil conflict, and counter-insurgency operations in the country. There are several other operations that SFF took part in but the details of those are classified.

    Beijing has repeatedly warned India that “playing the Tibet card” will “only make its own situation worse”. India’s acceptance and support of the Tibetian government have irked China for decades now.

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  2. Why India May Never Play Its ‘Tibet Card’ Despite Skyrocketing Tensions With China? – EurAsian Times Desk – September 27, 2020

    Tensions between India and China continue to escalate despite various rounds of intense negotiations at both military and diplomatic level. China via its media accuses India of wanting to negotiate only when its army is at an advantageous position and screeching for war when they are on the back-foot.

    As China continues to hold its cards close to the chest and New Delhi consistently accusing Beijing of not implementing the withdrawal of its troops despite assurances, experts have wondered why India is not playing the ‘Tibet Card’ to call China’s bluff?

    In 1959, after a failed uprising against Chinese occupation, spiritual leader Dalai Lama fled from Lhasa to India where he has been followed by Tibetans ever since.

    Lama, who has since then been living in the northern state of Dharamsala, where his supporters run a small government in exile to advocate for Tibet’s autonomy, is considered a dangerous separatist by China, with his activities being a major source of friction between the two countries.

    While India has regarded the Dalai Lama as a religious leader, it also chose to accept Tibet as a part of China through a 2003 agreement which saw a quid pro quo recognition by China of the Himalayan region of Sikkim as Indian territory.

    But increasing tensions along the border have poked suggestions from many to New Delhi to re-strategize and use the “Tibet Card” as retaliation against China’s growing belligerence. However, India has refrained from using Tibet as a means to hurt China due to several reasons.

    According to Shishir Gupta, writing for the Hindustan Times, history has a huge part to play in Prime Minister Narendra Modi not opting to pick the Tibet Card in a bid to foil Chinese advances.

    Then PM Jawahar Lal Nehru’s forward policy to define the Indian border with the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, the decision to provide shelter to 14th Dalai Lama after he crossed over on March 31, 1959, was one of the key reasons behind the 1962 border war.

    China’s supposition was that the presence of high lamas in the nation would offer some leverage to India in the Tibetan plateau and that the high Buddhist lama could induce a rebellion to destabilize an atheist China.” said Gupta

    While New Delhi has been forced to play the patience game with Beijing, it knows that finding a peaceful means to diffuse the border situation is a much better option than looking to enter a war-like situation again.

    Moreover, there is quite a chance that India might not even have a Tibet Card to play in the future with the 14th Dalai Lama, who is now 85-years-old, making it clear that he will neither emanate nor appoint and then tutor his successor.

    However, a retired Indian Army veteran, Inspector General Gurdip Singh Uban thinks that Tibet’s strategic importance could have a huge part to play for New Delhi to have an edge over their neighbours.

    “The strategic importance of Tibet cannot be overemphasised. It is the roof of the world, with vast mineral and natural resources,” (The restive ethnic groups) resent the taking over of their lands, interference in their culture, and resettling of the Han Chinese population on their homelands,”

    The cause of these oppressed people must be taken up at all forums to force China to recoil. The logical step, therefore, is to challenge the very legitimacy of the Chinese claim over Tibet.” said Singh.

    But according to Abhijnan Rej, writing for The Diplomat, India is unlikely to revisit India’s position on Tibet, with the move eventually proving to jeopardise the 2003 agreement with China.

    “(It) could pave the way for China de-recognizing Sikkim as Indian territory – or, more alarmingly from New Delhi’s point of view, Beijing asserting that all of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as Ladakh, are disputed territories. Note that China already considers Arunachal Pradesh as part of “South Tibet”.” said Rej.

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